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Rep. Jason Smith launches challenge for top GOP spot on Budget Committee

Little time left for Smith to campaign against Ohio's Bill Johnson in lame-duck session

Smith announced his decision Sunday.
Smith announced his decision Sunday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Missouri Republican Rep. Jason Smith plans to challenge Ohio’s Bill Johnson for the ranking member position on the House Budget Committee.

Smith announced his plans in a “Dear Colleague” letter he sent Sunday that was highly critical of Democrats’ spending priorities and the size of the national debt, but that didn’t mention his colleague.

“As we close-in on returning to the Majority, it’s all hands on deck, we each need to do our part, and I am ready to step into a larger challenge and fight to help get us across that line,” Smith wrote.

The two lawmakers don’t have much time to campaign before House Republicans decide contested committee leadership races during a lame-duck session that’s currently scheduled to end in mid-December.

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Johnson and Smith, who are not that different on paper, will need to work to differentiate themselves.

Both men are conservatives who represent rural areas and have consistently voted with the Republican Party on issues large and small.

Johnson has slightly more seniority than Smith. He was first elected in 2010 and joined the Budget panel in 2015. Johnson also knows how to craft a message, having once directed the staff of the Air Force’s chief information officer at U.S. Special Operations Command.

Smith was elected to Congress in 2013 and became a Budget Committee member in 2017. He is currently House Republican Conference secretary and is not seeking reelection to that role to pursue the top GOP Budget Committee slot.

“To best serve this Conference, I will be asking for our Steering Committee’s support to be the Republican Budget Committee Leader, and will not be running for Republican Conference Secretary,” he wrote in the letter.

Smith has been outspoken on Democrats’ climate change initiatives, calling the Green New Deal — an ambitious and expensive plan to wean the U.S. from fossil fuels and cut greenhouse gas emissions — the “Green New Disaster” during a Budget Committee hearing in 2019.

Whoever Republicans choose will succeed Republican Rep. Steve Womack of Arkansas, who’s leaving the panel at the end of this Congress.

Womack, who was named ranking member on the Financial Services Appropriations Subcommittee in October after the resignation of Georgia Rep. Tom Graves, won’t seek the waiver required under House GOP rules to hold both positions.

Johnson, who serves as Republicans’ unofficial “vice ranking member” on the Budget panel, declared his interest in the promotion after Womack said he would leave the Budget Committee at the start of the 117th Congress.

The Air Force veteran and former information technology business executive said he had the backing of Womack and several other “influential House Republicans.”

“I do plan to make my case to House Republican Leadership and our Steering Committee to be the next top Republican on the Budget Committee in January,” Johnson said in a statement in mid-October.

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Smith didn’t rule out a challenge at the time, saying in a statement he would make a decision after the election.

The House Budget Committee hasn’t been an especially coveted slot for several years, with the exception of drafting reconciliation instructions to help the GOP push through its 2017 tax overhaul.

That will begin to change next year with the expiration of the 2011 deficit reduction law’s discretionary spending caps. The Budget Committees will once again set the annual topline spending level, which now tallies roughly $1.4 trillion.

Republicans’ ongoing role as the minority party in the House won’t give them much sway over what Democrats include in their fiscal 2022 budget resolution. But it will position the panel’s top Republican to craft the party’s fiscal policy message heading into the midterm elections.

A House Democratic fiscal 2022 budget resolution would lay out that party’s tax and spending plan for the next decade and indicate how much they want to spend on defense and nondefense discretionary spending during the next fiscal year.

House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., said last week that drafting a document that can get the needed 218 votes to move across the floor would be a “monumental effort.”

Whoever House Republicans select as ranking member will lead the effort to make that even harder and craft amendments that put moderate Democrats on the record on issues that could haunt their reelection bids.

Smith wrote in his letter that he’s the best positioned to take on that role.

“We will show how their spending priorities are beholden to the far-left progressive agenda — that they are the ones controlling things,” he wrote.

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